When I call master baker Ruth Ward, I expect her to be up to her eyes in dough, but she says she is “between mixtures” and she has a gap.
There are not too many of those at this time of the year and it has been a hectic three months since Ruth joined franchise and investment company, Restol, who own Corner Bakery, which supplies 300 Engen Quick Shops countrywide.
Ruth and her team have been whipping up miniature Christmas cakes and mince pies, as well as little tarts, biscuits, macaroons and truffles in a kitchen in Warwick Triangle.
“Micro baking,” says Ruth, “is the next big trend in baking.”
She believes that the worldwide cupcake craze is set to lose ground to sweet mini bites.
“These days it is all about food on the go,” she explains. “People are on budgets and they don’t want to spend R70 or so on an eight-inch gateau of which half will be eaten, before being pushed to the back of the fridge.
“It makes sense to have smaller items that you can grab and go.”
Ruth hails from Bradford, Yorkshire, and grew up in a bakery, with her parents in the business.
She trained in the UK, spending five years in a college in Leeds where she got a national diploma in bakery and confectionery, as well as a higher diploma in microbiology.
Ruth worked in the UK for many years in all aspects of the baking industry, from plant bakeries to public health.
In 1993, she moved to South Africa with her two children and worked for bread and oil manufacturers, before starting a business with her parents, who had relocated here too.
She closed her business after several years and joined Restol three months ago.
Ruth is believed to be one of a handful of master bakers in the country. “We’re a dying breed,” she laughs.
Much of her work involves research and development – fine-tuning recipes, training, extending the shelf life of products and improving cost-effectiveness.
So, what makes a master baker different?
“A master baker is both technically and theoretically qualified to practise as a baker and to train others in the profession,” she says.
“It’s not only about baking and producing food, but also about having the technical and administrative skills necessary to manage the production area of a full-line independent bakery or an in-store commercial bakery.
“You must be able to produce high-quality baked goods and demonstrate a working knowledge of sanitation, management, retail and training.”
And that is just what she does.